Why did more than 100 Jewish leaders from around the country participate last month in act of civil disobedience in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building?
Why were 86 rabbis arrested, some handcuffed and carried off while still wearing their prayer shawls? And why do we, leaders of the Reconstructionist denomination of Judaism, spend so much time and social capital advocating on behalf of the roughly 800,000 Dreamers at risk of deportation. In case you didn’t know, very few of the Dreamers are Jews.
The answer is self-evident and derives from our tradition’s most sacred treasure: The Torah.
Torah values compelled our organizations, Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, to partner with Bend the Arc, a Jewish social justice organization, in a national day of action supporting the Dreamers. On February 7, we proudly co-sponsored the “Jews Stand with Dreamers” rally outside the Philadelphia offices of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey. Pennsylvania’s Republican junior senator has said that President Obama lacked the authority to create the DACA program and that President Trump was right to end it and throw the matter to Congress.
We don’t agree and, neither do the majority of the Jewish community or for that matter, most Americans. A CBS News poll released last month shows that 70 percent of Americans favor allowing Dreamers to remain in the United States. Even in an era of polarization, most Americans understand this issue in terms of fundamental fairness. These are some of the reasons why we delivered to Toomey’s office a letter signed by 13,000 American Jews demanding action and a path to citizenship for Dreamers. We hope that Toomey and many of his Senate and House colleagues can be swayed by the righteousness of the cause.
As Jews, as Americans and as human beings, we know from our sacred texts, from the values that we draw from them, and from our lived experience that we must stand for those who are on the margins of society. We cannot sit idly by while our neighbors and friends face deportation and homelessness.
The Torah, the sacred text of the Jewish people, tells us 36 times that we must welcome the stranger because we, who were strangers in the land of Egypt, know what it means to be the stranger. The Dreamers were brought to this country as children; they grew up here speaking English and participating in our communities. Most Dreamers have jobs or are in university and contribute mightily to our society. They are not unknown to us or “others,” but are sojourners in our midst – exactly the kind of people the Torah injunction is telling us to think about. It is a moral imperative to treat those who reside with us, who contribute and build alongside us, as equals in our society.
Furthermore, we Jews know from our lived experience that our safety is only as secure as the safety of the most vulnerable people in our society. We know that ultra-nationalist rhetoric and closed borders means persecution and suffering for vulnerable populations, including masses of innocent, striving people. The era of mass Jewish immigration to the United States ended with the passage of the immigration act of 1924, which effectively barred the gates to Eastern and Southern Europeans. Imagine how many victims of the Holocaust could have been saved had our nation remained open to those in need. Imagine the incalculable human potential denied a chance to benefit our society — or any society.
We know from our history that Jewish safety is only as strong as the civil society of the nations in which we dwell and where our relationships with other groups have been strong. The promise of America’s founding documents has created unprecedented opportunity for America’s Jews. As much as we have sought advancement and hopefulness for ourselves, we seek them for all immigrants. We stand with Dreamers because, in a time of growing intolerance and divisiveness, when the human and civil rights of all minorities are increasingly threatened, we need allies and we need to be allies.
We hope for a more open, sensible and secure immigration system that gives people from around the world the same chance at reinvention that our Jewish forbearers enjoyed. Right now, our immediate focus is on the Dreamers who were brought here as children, and who, due to the arbitrary actions of President Trump, face an imminent threat of deportation. Such a cruel act would not only rob these so many young people of their safety, security, and prosperity, it would irreparably destroy their American dream and our collective American future.
As Reconstructionist Jews, we insist that the best of Judaism should inform America and the best of America should inform Judaism. The highest ideals of this country resonate deeply with Jewish values, including the teaching that all people are created in God’s image, that all people are of the opportunity to live full, free, meaningful lives. Out of Jewish and American values, out of our Jewish and American experiences, we call upon our elected officials to act upon the best of American values and to pass a clean Dream Act.
We encourage people to consult the five books of Moses — sacred to all the traditions descended from Abraham — and read for yourself the Biblical imperative to welcome the immigrant. Please contact our member of Congress. And if you can, join us in person and make your voices heard.
This essay was co-authored by my friend and colleagues Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Phd. President of Reconstructing Judaism.